It’s a common misconception that you can’t train your cat, but you absolutely can! Just like with dogs, you can train your cat to respond to visual and verbal cues. One difference is that while dogs can be rewarded with pets and praise, cats are more like teenagers—it’s pay to play. The good news is that this means cats are highly motivated by treats!
Ideally, start training your cat while she is a kitten, but it’s never too late for your cat to learn. Hand signals can be especially useful not just as a command cue, but also in case your kitty’s hearing starts to go with old age. We’ve picked four commands that are fun and engaging for both you and your cat that you can teach kitty today!
How to Train
You need to build a connection for your cat between verbal commands and hand signals. As with dogs, there are two steps:
- Keep the hand signal simple
- Use positive reinforcement (treats) to reward kitty for a job well done
Once your cat is consistently performing the desired actions, you can phase out the treats, but as cats respond better to tangible rewards, this may take a little longer than with dogs. Training works best when you work with your cat daily. Prioritize training and your cat will be following your hand signals in no time!
1. Make a fist: Sit
Place a treat in your hand and make a fist, and entice kitty to sniff your hand. With your fist right in front of her nose, move your hand toward the back of her head. Make sure your hand is a little higher than her nose. This will naturally cause your cat to sit. When she does, reward her! In the beginning, combine the hand signal with the verbal command “sit.”
2. Open hand parallel to the ground, palm down, push down: Lie down
Once you’ve trained your cat to sit, you can move on to teaching her to lie down. First, put kitty into a sitting position. Then hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger, placed just in front of your cat’s nose. Let her sniff it. Lower your hand straight down until it’s right between her front paws. Her head should follow. When kitty is looking down, slowly pull your hand back toward you. As she follows the treat, she should lie down. It may take her a few minutes to figure this out, so keep the treat in position until she lies down, and then reward her. After kitty is comfortable with this, introduce the hand cue and continue to treat until she reliably performs the command.
3. Make a circle with your index finger: Roll over
Start by having your cat lie down. Take a treat and hold it between your thumb and forefinger in front of her nose. Using small movements, pull the treat in a slightly upward motion toward either the left or right ear. You’ll want to practice with each ear to see if your cat prefers one over the other, or struggles with one side. Once you determine which side is best, stick with it. Draw the treat from your cat’s ear in a diagonal line toward the center of her back. Her eyes should follow the treat, and then she will roll over onto her side. Give a treat at this stage. Practice this a few times, and then move the treat farther to the side so kitty rolls onto her back. Again, treat this stage. Repeat a few times, and then once she is on her back, move the treat even farther to the side so that she rolls all the way over and treat her. After she is rolling all the way over, you can introduce the hand signal and reduce treats to just reward the complete action.
4. Vertical open palm: High five
Begin teaching this trick by rewarding your cat every time she lifts her paw off the ground while she is sitting. Hold a treat in your hand and each time she touches your hand, give her the treat. When she is consistently touching your hand, transition to the vertical open palm position. Treat her each time she touches your palm.
While cats are highly food motivated, don’t forget to also use verbal praise. Positive reinforcement is the key to training any pet, and you want kitty to know she’s doing a good job. Remember to be patient and that a cat must perform a command many times in order to fully understand what’s being asked of her. And don’t forget to have fun! Training is stimulating and rewarding for both you and your cat. Use these tips as a way to build an even deeper connection with your special kitty.